In the early 20th century, in the bustling city of Tokyo, lived a dog whose profound love became a testament to canine loyalty. His name was Hachiko, a Japanese Akita known for the remarkable bond he shared with his owner - a bond that has captured the hearts of dog owners for generations since.
Years later, Hachiko’s poignant story continues to resonate with pet lovers around the world, inspiring countless novels, songs, TV shows, and films. This year marks Hachiko’s 100th birthday and we want to commemorate his legacy by exploring his story in further detail.
Hachiko was born on the 10th of November 1923. In 1924, a year after Hachiko's birth, Hidesaburo Ueno, an agricultural engineering professor from the University of Tokyo, happened to pass by Shibuya Station where he met Hachiko's breeder, a farmer from the city of Odate, Akita Prefecture.
Though how Hachiko came to live with Ueno is debated, it’s widely suggested that the farmer gifted the puppy to Professor Ueno as a gesture of gratitude and admiration. The professor, known for his interest in dogs, gladly accepted the gift and named the puppy Hachiko, combining the word "Hachi" meaning "eight" (as Hachiko was born in the eighth month, it’s also a lucky number in Japanese culture), and the suffix “ko” used for ancient Chinese dukes, though in this case “ko” was added for affection so roughly translated, Hachiko means “Little Hachi”.
This meeting marked the beginning of a profound connection between Professor Ueno and Hachiko. They quickly formed a deep and inseparable bond, as Hachiko became a loyal companion following in the footsteps of his owner. Walking to Shibuya Station together every morning became a cherished ritual between the two. And evenings were no different as Hachiko would patiently sit at the train station waiting for his master to return from work.
However, in May 1925, Ueno didn’t return home. He suffered a cerebral haemorrhage whilst giving a lecture and shortly passed away. Every day for nearly 10 years, Hachiko continued visiting Shibuya Station, waiting for his owner to come home.
After his owner’s death, Hachiko was passed from home to home but no matter how far he moved, he always found his way back to Shibuya Station. Eventually, he settled at the home of Professor Ueno’s former gardener, Kikuzaburo Kobayashi, yet still left every morning and evening to wait at the train station.
Hachiko’s presence at Shibuya Station didn’t go unnoticed and it wasn’t long before staff and commuters became concerned. Though tales of Hachiko often depict the adoration and kindness of passersby, initial reactions weren’t necessarily friendly and Hachiko was often shooed away and tormented by school children.
In 1932, Hirokichi Saito, the chairman of the Nihon Ken Hozonkai (The Association for The Preservation of the Japanese Dog) and a former student of Professor Ueno, heard about Hachiko and the mistreatment he was facing.
He followed Hachiko to the home of Ueno’s former gardener and spent hours learning his history. After this meeting, Saito published a documented census of Japanese Akitas. He found that there were only 30 purebred Akitas in Japan, including Hachiko and wanted the Japanese population to recognise their importance.
Over the years, Saito continued to visit Hachiko at Shibuya Station and wrote many articles about his loyalty. One particular article in The Asahi Shimbun newspaper caught the attention of the public. Overnight, word of Hachiko spread throughout Japan making him a national icon. Those who visited Shibuya Station often brought treats and food to Hachiko to help him in his wait. It was also during this time he adopted the nickname “chuken Hachiko”; “faithful Hachiko”.
Hachiko’s perseverance served the people of Japan as an example of familial loyalty all should aim to honour and display. His story was used by teachers and parents to inspire children and throughout Japan, a newfound appreciation for Akitas began to grow. Once a dying breed, Hachiko’s story led to an increase in their breeding and subsequent adoption.
2 years later in 1934, a bronze statue of Hachiko was erected outside of Shibuya Station by sculptor, Teru Ando. Hachiko was invited to its unveiling as the main guest but sadly the statue was melted down for the war effort just 10 years later.
Even before his death, Hachiko’s loyalty and faithfulness made him a national symbol of Japan, statue or no statue.
In 1935, after waiting 9 years, 9 months, and 15 days for his owner to return, at the age of 11, Hachiko passed away. In 2011, it was finally confirmed that Hachiko’s cause of death was due to terminal cancer and a filarial infection. There were also four yakitori (skewered chicken) sticks found in his stomach though miraculously they didn’t damage his stomach or cause his death.
After his death, Hachiko’s remains were cremated and his ashes were buried in the Aoyama Cemetery in Tokyo beside his master, Professor Ueno. After nearly ten years, Hachiko and Ueno were reunited.
Hachiko’s pelt was preserved after his death and his taxidermy mount is still on display at the National Science Museum of Japan.
In 1948, Takeshi Ando (son of the original Hachiko statue maker) was commissioned by the Society for Recreating the Hachiko Statue to create a second statue to honour Hachiko. The statue still stands to this day and is a popular meeting spot outside of Shibuya Station for thousands of residents and tourists. The station entrance closest to the statue is now named “Hachiko-guchi” meaning “The Hachiko Entrance/Exit”.
The statue is so well-loved that upon closer inspection you’ll find Hachiko’s paws and arms shinier and smoother compared to the rest of his body from where visitors continue to stroke him every day. A similar statue can also be found in Hachiko’s birthplace, Odate.
In 2015, to commemorate the 80th anniversary of Hachiko’s death a large statue was unveiled by the Faculty of Agriculture at the University of Tokyo (Professor Ueno’s former workplace). The statue depicts an excited, happy Hachiko jumping up at Professor Ueno, finally greeting him after his 9-year-long wait. Ueno is wearing a suit, hat, and trench coat, and carries a briefcase as if no time has passed at all. Hachiko is sculpted wearing his studded harness, as seen in his last photos.
Hachiko’s legacy has continued to grow into the 21st century and has firmly cemented him as one of the most notable canines in modern history. His cultural impact lies in his ability to touch hearts, inspire people, and symbolise values such as loyalty, dedication, and compassion even a century after his birth.
Hachiko was, and will always be, more than his story. He serves not only as a symbol of commitment and family love, both of which are key aspects of Japanese culture, but as a worldwide example of canine innocence, faith and the power of love between humans and pets. Is it, therefore, any wonder his tale continues to be celebrated long after his death?
Hachiko’s tale encourages us to resonate, acknowledge and celebrate the relationships we share with our pets. It continues to be shared around the globe as a reminder of the profound connection we can create and nurture. Though Hachiko’s story takes place 100 years ago, his undying devotion is something every pet owner can sympathise with, even in modern times.
On the 8th of March every year at Shibuya Station, the Hachiko festival takes place. During this time, thousands of people gather from around the world to honour Hachiko and his legacy through ceremonies and celebrations. As this year marks the 100th birthday of Hachiko, you can expect special events and festivals to take place throughout November in both Shibuya and Odate.
Wherever you find yourself for Hachiko’s 100th birthday, take the time to celebrate the bond with your own pet because if there’s anything Hachiko’s story teaches us it’s not to take the love of our pets for granted.
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